"So, why do you do it?"

This time last year - living and working in the woods with the brilliant Janet Devlin. (Photo credit: Demetri Yiallourou.)

   This week marks exactly one year since the Songbird shoot, and I'll admit that I have mixed feelings about the anniversary. It also means that the film has been in post-production for a year; while this has been for the good of the film, and everyone is doing brilliant work, I'm also keen to give our backers the rewards they kindly pledged for. We're at the point in post-production where I've seen the film's imagery - the footage, poster, behind-the-scenes images etc. - so many times, on a daily basis, that I start seeing a product more than a project. It's a bizarre period, wherein your film becomes more of an object than an experience.

   That is, until yesterday, when the film's wonderful DoP Chris Newman sent me something I hadn't seen before. It was just a brief clip he'd recorded on his phone during the shoot, with the crew setting up a scene on the third filming day. Nothing particularly memorable happened in the clip, but my god did it stir up some memories and emotions for me. When business takes over, we have to distance ourselves from our films - and this sent me right back there. It was like he'd pushed me through a time portal.

   Film shoots can often be difficult things. You don't need to work in the industry for long to learn that filmmaking isn't always fun. There's long hours, early starts, late nights, physical exhaustion; sometimes there's tensions on set, and sometimes the environment is just against you. Sometimes you're there out of obligation rather than choice, such as when you take a job to pay the bills - or when a project has turned sour long ago, but you're contractually bound to stick it out to the end. We've all experienced these scenarios at some point or another (thankfully I've never had all at once!), and you often come away feeling exhausted, lost, out-of-pocket, or a mix of the three. Add to this the fact that the film world is one of the bitchiest and most cliquey industries I've encountered.

   Understandably, people have asked me why I put myself through it all, time and time again, and on a regular basis. I've never been able to answer properly. I'd usually fall back on self-deprecating humour (my usual go-to option in uncomfortable moments). I don't think I knew the answer until this week, when Chris sent me that video clip. 

Shooting Stop/Eject in 2012. Small crew, big film. (Photo credit: Paul Bednall)

   The truth, the reason why I keep doing it, isn't about words. It's a feeling - the feeling when you think back on a film shoot, and you get a wave of adrenaline, gradual at first, but sweeping through your body until it's so intense that you can feel it in your throat. It's a nostalgic sensation that makes you feel kind of sad but, at the same time, so excited that you have an overwhelming desire to immediately go back there. That's as close as I can get to describing it - but it it still doesn't quite hit the nail on the head. I've only felt it three times in my life, the first being when I produced Stop/Eject. It felt as much like an adventure as it did a temporary new lifestyle, and something inside me knew how important it would be to my career. It's been half a decade since that shoot, and I still get the same sensation I described above - even thinking of the challenges we had to overcome.

   The second time is more of an ongoing sense of want. Night Owls is probably my favourite film to have made, and it's made me so incredibly proud (just look at the latest glowing review), but the shoot was comparatively brief, and such a lovely blissful breeze, that it doesn't inspire a mix of panic and excitement on reflection. But the thought of the feature-length version - something I've been trying to get off the ground since I was fifteen years old - definitely does. Tommy Draper and I have been working on the script for years, and there's certain scenes I can picture so vividly that I'm filled with an almost overwhelming desire to shoot it that very second. I really hope I can have that thirst quenched one day.

Directing my brilliant actors on the short film version of Night Owls. (Photo credit: Elly Lucas.)

   But what I learned this week is Songbird is now the third film that makes me feel this way. After some of the difficulties we had on set, I didn't think this would ever be the case - but it really is. There are a couple of things I love about filmmaking that I can put into words - firstly, the people (bringing people together with different, incredible skills, and putting their talents into one single vision), and also the feeling you get when you see your beautiful footage on the big screen for the first time - and Songbird has given me both. The latter will come this weekend when the Songbird trailer screens ahead of the cast and crew premiere of Time, and Again, starring Doctor Who's Colin Baker. I'm really looking forward to that!

   Maybe I sound crazy after all - like some sort of addict, in love with the thing that hurts me the most. Or maybe I sound like a parent who has forgotten the pain of labour, and longs to feel a baby kick inside them again. All I know is, the memories of long days and terrible weather on location have begun to fade, and the increasingly-familiar feeling of adrenaline is starting to take their place... and now I can't wait to go into pre-production on the next painful and beautiful adventure.

The brilliant team of people behind Songbird, August 2016. (Photo credit: Demetri Yiallourou)



  1. Glad to have sparked some inspiration for this post! It was a lovely moment of nostalgia when that clip popped up on my phone.

    1. It was great to see it! I have so many lovely filmmy memories with you. Thank you for inspiring me yet again.

    2. Talking of videos, I've just sent Sophie my video of her end-of-day-one motivational speech - I'm sure she'd love to share it with you ;)

  2. Brilliant blog. I remember first meeting you on shelfstackers with Neil. That was my first outing in the filmmaking world since my early twenties and I remember those 3 days as being very long and exhausting but brilliant fun. But it wasn't the film that excited me so much as it was the wonderful people. I went on a real downer after the shoot because it was all over. I'd put so much passion and hard work in but got paid in riches greater than mere money. I made friends with you and Neil in particular and that made the whole experience unforgettable

    1. Thank you, Mike. What a lovely thing to write! It's always such a pleasure to have you on set. And yes, Shelf Stackers was such a fun shoot. I was happy to be a part of it.


Post a comment

Popular Posts